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‘The water of good content will reach every pipe – whether OTT or linear TV’

How television can successfully weather the growing onslaught of OTT has been a widely debated topic, discussed across the spectrum. And if one goes by the latest industry reports, television in India is going nowhere. The topic of Dual Screen Addiction – Disruptive or Addictive! Will broadcast and Video on Demand (VOD) co-exist? formed the basis of an interesting discussion on Day 2 of the FICCI Frames 2019. The session was moderated by Sunil Lulla, Group Chief Executive Officer, Balaji Telefilms. 

On the question of whether OTT is an archaic term and whether it needs to updated in keeping with its exponential growth, Vishal Maheshwari, Country Head, Viu Clip, mentioned that the definition of OTT or ‘Over The Top’ emerged somewhere in the 80’s “in one of those GSMA conferences” attended by telecom operators and internet service providers. According to Maheshwari, the fundamental nature of television is about to change. “I don’t think television is about television anymore; it is about content and the consumer who is consuming that content, and both are fundamentally changing,” he noted. 

Commenting on the co-existence of Television and OTT, Gaurav Banerjee, President and Head – Hindi GEC, Star India, remarked, “It depends on the business one truly is in. We, at Star, find ourselves to be in the business of curating stories and finding writers and fueling their dreams. I think it should be left to the consumers and families to decide what stories they want to watch together on television or on on-demand platforms. While some stories are best told over 2,000 episodes, there are some stories could be told in just 15 or 20 minutes. So, the world of stories is awesome and there is a wide variety of stories that are waiting to be told. But more importantly, consumers should figure out what is convenient for them and what they want to watch and where.” 

While stating that they were in the business of monetising content in some form or the other, Tarun Katial, Chief Executive Officer, ZEE5, said that while it is good to tell stories, “we eventually have to make money”. He further said, “What digital and OTT platforms bring to the table is very different from what linear TV ever did, which is the high degree of segmentation and personalisation, as well as the ability of a consumer to discover content and watch it at his or her own convenience. “I don’t think that is going anywhere, and will continue to build. While we all want linear TV to stay and grow, the convenience aspect which digital platforms bring is huge and that will continue to build.” 

Veteran media professional and former COO of Viacom18, Raj Nayak, affirmed, “I am a big believer that television is here to stay for a simple reason – entertainment is a big thing for a lot of families in the evenings. As you got to the small towns 6 pm is the peak time for television viewing.”  

At the same time there is digital streaming happening, where people are watching OTT platforms like Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, etc. “Therefore, I think that devices are only going to be this source from which people watch content; linear content could be watched on a mobile phone or digital streaming could be done on the television set – I believe both will co-exist even in the long run, say the next 10-20 years, especially in India,” Nayak said.  

He emphatically stated, “Television is here to stay, even as digital streaming will grow at a very fast pace. What broadcasters need to look for – and I think that is showing in the upcoming ratings – is that the audience is getting fragmented. While earlier, the comparison was between a Colors and a Star Plus or a Sony and a Zee TV; today, the same audience is comparing you with Zee5, Hotstar, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix. Audience taste is evolving and with this, TV channels will also have to course correct to be able to give them content on linear television that is as compelling as what they stream on digital platforms.”  

Avinash Kaul, COO, Network 18 & Managing Director, A+E Networks TV18, here pointed out that there were roughly 20 crore homes that did not have television today. This would continue to be the main area of growth for linear television for a long time, he said, adding that this fragmentation was coming from parts of north India and eastern India. 

Agreeing with Nayak, Kaul, too, believed that television and OTT platforms would co-exist. At the same time, he added, “What remains to be seen is how will television and OTT compete with each other and how it will bring out the best practices.”  

Giving an OTT player’s perspective, Abhishek Nag, Director, Partnerships – Netflix, said, “We look for storytellers anywhere in the world, we want them to craft these stories in a manner which are true to where they are. If they are able to do this, we provide them the platform and make their stories travel across the world. A lot of people don’t know this, but two out of three viewers of ‘Sacred Games’ were people from outside India. The reason for this was that the story was set in Mumbai and the city was represented really well in the story. That is what we want to do, find storytellers and make them tell stories in a manner that they are true to where they are from.”  

Raj Nayak summed up the discussion, stating, “Whether you play the content on TV or on OTT, it is ultimately video content and it is all about good content. The water of good content will reach every pipe – whether OTT or linear TV.”

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